The pros and cons of renting a basement apartment

June 24, 2014

(Reed Saxon/Associated Press)

Nancy Simmons Starrs is president and founder of Apartment Detectives, a D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia apartment search service. She writes an occasional column on rental issues.

At least once a day as I’m helping people find rental units, I hear this phrase: No basement apartments! On the other hand, there are also those who strongly prefer this type of home.

So I thought I would sit down and write why some people love this type of rental home and why others absolutely will not consider one at all. There are good arguments from both camps.

Often these apartments are in charming rowhouses. 

Some basements apartment have been very nicely updated by their owners. This will bring the price up, but sometimes a nicer quality kitchen may be well worth the price if that is your priority.

Here are some benefits to renting a basement apartment:

• Outdoor space: Basement units give you direct access to the outdoors without having to walk through a corridor or down stairs.

Anyone who has a dog knows it is a lot easier to let your dog out in a yard in the middle of the night than it is to try and sneak down a common hall in your pajamas hoping to not bump into your neighbors. It is also useful for those who like to barbecue — while you’re cooking, you have proximity to your apartment if you need to run in and grab something right quick. 

Also with the owner’s permission, you also may be able to use the outdoor space to plant a garden.

•  Privacy: Some people prefer a private entrance into their home and many basement apartments will have their own entry separate from the main one that everyone else uses.

• Cooler: During the summer, basement units will typically be cooler so you can save some money on your air conditioning bills.

• Washer and dryer: You may have direct access to the washer and dryer without having to go down steps.

Here are some of the drawbacks to renting a basement apartment:

• Flooding:  Basements can have flooding issues. Flooding may not happen all the time, but you have to be aware of this when you are viewing an apartment. Be sure to look for signs of flooding or dampness. A damp space can also have mold so you just want to be very aware, especially if you have allergies.

• Lack of natural light: Many basement apartments are not going to have a great amount of sunlight. Some of them can have good light, if the apartment is partially above ground or if there are some bigger windows. You just have to look at each one to determine if there is enough light for you.

• Possibly less secure: You may not have the level security that you have in a unit in the upper levels of an apartment building that aren’t directly accessible from the street and that require visitors to be buzzed in. Doors and windows need to be secured and a security system is not a bad idea.

• Cooler: While it can provide relief in the summer, a cool basement can be miserable in the winter. Make sure the heating system is working properly and that windows and exterior doors are sealed tightly to prevent drafts.

We all have our own set of personal preferences. With any potential home, you have to weigh its positive and negative points.

Only you can assess which apartment is the right fit and will be a wonderful place to call home.

Read Nancy Simmons Starrs’s previous columns:

How to stay within budget in the expensive D.C. rental market

Tips on finding a pet-friendly rental

How to land a great rental in the competitive D.C. market

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